REYNOLDSBURG — David T. Daniels makes it no secret that he loves … no, correct that … really loves his job.
Approaching his fifth year as director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the Greenfield native who grew up on his family’s Highland County farm says he feels thankful not just for the job he holds, but for everyone he works with and serves in the state.
“The opportunity to get to be a part of the Ohio Department of Agriculture that represents the number one industry in the state of Ohio is a pretty neat thing for a kid that grew up on a small family farm in Greenfield,” Daniels told Rural Life Today in an interview Nov. 17 at his Reynoldsburg office.
“I got here in February, 2012. Time sure flies when you are having fun,” Daniels laughed. “Are you?” he was asked. “Absolutely. I don’t want it any secret that I love my job here.”
Growing up on the Daniels Brothers farm in Greenfield gave him a unique perspective as he took office as head of the state’s agriculture department.
“We were a general grain, general livestock operation. The farm had been in our family since the early 1800s,” Daniels said.
“When I was a kid growing up I was going to be a farmer for the rest of my life. When I left high school I started working with my dad and uncle on the farm. I got involved in community affairs and one thing led to the other and I ended up here.”
He feels his experience growing up on a family farm has been very helpful for him.
Daniels said the average farm size in Ohio is about 187 acres. “We have something like 75,000 of those in the state. And my family farm was like the other 75,000 farms, so it has allowed me to relate to the farmers, the producers out there, coming from the same background and experiences as they do.”
Daniels said one thing that makes his job so great is that he travels to many Ohio farms during the year. “It’s one of the best parts of my job — getting out there and seeing what other producers are doing on the farm and what agriculture has become with the new technologies that have helped all of us be more productive to raise more food. That helps the two percent raise food for the other 98 percent.”
He said that when he visit someone’s farm who is implementing conservation measures that is making a difference in the state with water quality, “Those are fun things to see. It is important that we continue to get this message out.”
What does he see as the biggest issues facing Ohio farmers in the coming year? “I say that each year brings new hope. The seeds we plant in April and May will turn out to be a good crop. Here (in Ohio) the farm economy is going to have a rough couple of years, and obviously that will be on the minds of our producers,” Daniels said.
As director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Daniels was asked what message he would like to send Ohio farmers and all residents of the state as we approach the holiday season.
“As we enter the Thanksgiving season, I am thankful for the agriculture industry in Ohio and all the producers we have, not only those raising food and fiber but also the folks who are in the food processing industry. I’ve said it a hundred times — we have a great story to tell. Farmers work hard each and every day to provide for everybody, and what we do is honorable work,” Daniels said.
“I tell everyone to be proud of the story they have to tell and be proud of what their family does. Let people know how important it is to understand what you doing as a farmer and producer connects with them. I am thankful to have the opportunity, thankful that we have the choices we have in this country, and we need to thank agriculture for that,” he added.
Daniels was appointed director by Governor John R. Kasich on Feb. 15, 2012. Daniels lives in Greenfield with his wife Karen. They have four children and nine grandchildren.
Daniels sat down with Rural Life Today and answered questions about his years at the helm of the state’s agriculture department, some of the major decisions he has made and issues the state’s farming community has faced and will face in the future.
Exports and the November election
Q: Can you talk about the role of exports in Ohio’s agriculture economy and what you see ahead with a new administration in Washington.
Daniels: We want to pay close attention obviously with what happens with trade. Not only on the national front, because trade is the lifeblood of agriculture, but Ohio also. We export a lot of good from Ohio, to partners all over the world.
Dave Martin’s Bluegrass Farms (in Jeffersonville, Fayette County) and the export of non-GMO soybeans to places like Japan is an example. Obviously Dave has found a market for non-GMO beans and that’s great. He is working with producers to market this product and probably paying a little bit of a premium. It is great he is working with producers.
Q: With the November presidential election, do you have any concerns about the U.S. export crops?
Daniels: No, I think export has been the lifeblood of agriculture and everybody realizes it. I believe that trade is going to continue. The candidates on both sides didn’t say they would cut off trade, but maybe TTP wasn’t the trade deal they would agree with and might have t go back and re-negotiate. There is always going to be an export market. There will always be a market for trade. There are products we need to import, and products other countries need from us. Gov. Kasich was very clear that he supports exports and we should as a nation, and I agree with that.
I think everyone just needs to calm down and see what happens. As far as exports, agriculture has a very strong voice and I think will make it clear how important these exports are to the economy. Fred Yoder (of Union County) and others are part of the Trump Agriculture Advisory Committee that will have a voice in the new administration. I think that agriculture will have a strong voice.
Q: How will the election affect the Ohio Dept. of Agriculture?
Daniels: First, I report to Gov. Kasich and not to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We work cooperatively with the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration on a number of different programs. About half the state ag directors are elected and half appointed. They report either to the governor or the public electing them. I agree that there will likely be a new USDA Secretary replacing U.S. Sec. of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Elections have consequences and also opportunities. It gives an opportunity for new direction. I can tell you I am not applying … I am happy where I am at!
Looking at 2017
Q: Looking ahead into 2017, what do you see as your goals and challenges?
Daniels: First, we want to be an effective agency. We would like to do technology upgrades for a lot of our people out in the field. We were extremely fortunate to bring the Division of Soil and Water conservation from the Department of Natural Resources into the Department of Agriculture. It gives us an opportunity to expand our ability to be an asset and resource to these small and medium farmers across the state, so we want to grow and expand our relationship with these folks that we were not able to have before, and be a good partner with them.
Rural Life Today editor Gary Brock can be reached at 937-556-5759 or on Twitter at GBrock4.